Watch the birdie: a guided twitch in London

UK OUTDOORS: Hawks in Hackney, raptors in Regent's Park, peregrines in Paddington. If you know where to look, the capital can be a birdwatcher's paradise. Rupert Isaacs on reports
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The Independent Travel
London might not seem much of a place for twitchers, but its position at the head of a large estuary, with a more sheltered climate than elsewhere on the North Sea coast, makes the London basin attractive to migrants of all kinds. Each season a surprising number of rare birds wing in to the London parks, reservoirs, railway land, rubbish tips, and marshes. Not to mention the species that stay all year. London is, in fact, a twitcher's paradise. Gary Hewitt, a birdwatching fanatic of 20 years' standing leads his trips in inner London to sites as diverse as Paddington Cemetery, Regent's Park, Hampstead Heath, Battersea Park, Hackney Marshes, Victoria Park and various reservoirs and riverside sites.

If you are walking on, say, Hampstead Heath, you can expect to see rarities such as sparrow hawks and little goldcrests, coal tits in the bushes and grebes out on the ponds. The waterside sites reveal even greater riches, with a host of waders, including curlews, redshanks, godwits and even avocets. Exotics such as spoonbills and egrets also come in from time to time. If they're there, Gary will know where they are and will lead you to them. Happy returnees from Hewitt's trips last year reported short- eared owls, smews, bitterns and water rails (in the Lea Valley), black terns, cuckoos, sandpipers, peregrine falcons, Montagu's Harrier - even ospreys: all have been seen in and around London. As a way of revealing a side of the city you never knew existed his trips are hard to beat. If, however, you have seen enough grey buildings for a while, Hewitt also runs forays further afield.

Because the trips are London based, the people who go on them can be as interesting as the feathered creatures they are pursuing. Fluorescent hair and pierced lips, noses, eyebrows and tongues, dreadlocks and tweed suits, kids, grannies and green wellies all gather to check out the city and environs through Hewitt's keen eyes. If you want to see some nature next weekend, but don't want to travel, you could do worse than give Gary Hewitt a ring. Trips run over full days (under pounds 20), and half-days (pounds 10) most weekends through the year. Special tours can be arranged for groups, and the disabled are welcome.

Gary Hewitt's Birdwatching Tours, PO Box 7229, London E11 3UD, Tel (0181) 558 7848.

FACT FILE

Season:

Open all year.

Accommodation

Centre can help arrange local B&B or camping.

Food

Not provided.

Children

Must be 10 years old for regular tours, younger children welcome on designated family tours. Discounts for youths. Special tours offered for schoolchildren.

Disabled Facilities

Disabled clients can be accommodated, and many sites are wheelchair accessible.

Insurance

Guests should provide personal insurance coverage if desired.

Tariffs

Half day tour: pounds 10; full day tour: pounds 18; half day family tour: pounds 20 per family. Binocular rental: pounds 2 per pair. Fifty per cent discount for children aged 10-16 years. Unemployed persons only pay pounds 2 (if space available).

Booking

Payment due at time of booking, preferably two weeks in advance. Refunds only made if tour cancelled. Late bookings accepted if space available.

Access:

All birdwatching sites are accessible by public transport, contact centre for details

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